Fees rising as new court transcript model takes hold

Fees are going up as the Ontario government gets ready to outsource the production of court transcripts next month.

Under a new fee schedule, the cost per page is $4.30 for an original certified transcript, up from the previous $3.20 for non-Court of Appeal matters. Under the new system, parties will be able to request expedited transcripts for either $6 per page to get them within five business days or $8 per page for a 24-hour turnaround. The Ministry of the Attorney General notes the fee schedule has remained the same for 22 years.

The fee increases come as Arkley Professional Services gets set to begin administering the court transcript process as of June 9. The move follows years of litigation over how the governments treats its court reporters who have also been doing the transcription work.

In a case going back years, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union accused the province of violating its collective agreement by not applying it to court reporters who prepare and certify transcripts. At one point, the union took the matter to the Grievance Settlement Board as it sought an order applying the terms and conditions of the collective agreement.

The board found the duties court reporters perform in typing and certifying transcripts of court proceedings was bargaining-unit work rather than additional freelance-type duties beyond their regular courtroom activities. But the dispute continued as the union alleged the government failed to act on the rulings.

Earlier this year, the government and OPSEU reached a deal that would provide compensation to court reporters for their transcription work up until now. The settlement also allowed the government to move forward with contracting out transcription work to independent providers.

Among those who will move onto the Arkley’s list of providers, should they choose, are the ministry court reporters themselves. That list will likely include a host of transcription service providers. The Court Reporters’ Association of Ontario, has thus created its own service, Accurately Noted, to connect its members with those who may be using the Arkley list.

“Pick someone you know that does a good job,” says association president Joanne Hardie, who emphasizes the importance of accuracy in doing transcription work.

“Look for familiar names,” she advises lawyers. “First and foremost, consider the court reporter of record.”

Kim Neeson, of Neeson & Associates Court Reporting and Captioning Inc., says there are positives and negatives to the new system. Among the positives are the ability of parties to choose a transcriptionist they like and the ability to expedite requests by going to someone they know will do the job quickly. But Neeson notes the potential downsides given that parties may not be using the court reporter who was there during the proceedings.

"There's more of a chance of error," she says, noting the recordings often pick up random noises that can interfere with the transcription work. In addition, in cases where the court reporter has forgotten to turn off the recording during breaks, the transcriptionist may not realize that something is off the record later on, says Neeson.

The Court Reporter's Association is also asking questions about the certification of those who will be on the list to provide services along with its members. Last week, Durham College began a 14-week, $375 evening course to “become a certified court transcriptionist” in light of the new model.

Hardie says she doesn’t have all of the details on the course but notes the association questions whether it’s enough to do the job given the need for added supports like mentorship and other forms of training.

In the end, Neeson says the the new system will be a case of "buyer beware" when it comes to ensuring quality and accuracy.

"You pick people from the list who are properly qualified," she says.

Hardie notes some court reporters are still unhappy with the changes after a long fight over their working conditions and the outsourcing issue. But she says it has largely accepted the reality given that other provinces have moved towards independent providers. That’s why, she notes, it has moved to highlight members’ qualifications through the Accurately Noted web site.

“We can’t fight it anymore,” she says. “I think we need to reinvent ourselves.”

Update May 13: Comments from Kim Neeson added.

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